50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 49. Alaska

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

49. Alaska

Capital: Juneau

Nickname: The Last Frontier

Motto: North to the Future

About the State

Prior to the arrival of settlers from the Old World, Alaska was home to numerous groups of indigenous people, including the Tingit, Inuit and Aleut – the latter tribe lost more than 80% of their population when they were exposed to new diseases from the pioneers, against which they had no natural immunity.  Russian explorers in the 18th century were the first recorded Europeans to set foot in the region and they were able to traverse from their homeland on foot during the winter, over what is now known as the Bering Land Bridge.  In 1784, Grigory Ivanovich Shelikhov established Russia’s first settlement in the region, at Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island, with several more being set up in the next few years.  The Russians were primarily focused on whaling and the fur trade, gaining a monopoly on access to sea otters, who were particularly valuable due to the thickness of their fur.  Spain and Britain also both attempted to colonise Alaska but – even though Russia never fully achieved that aim either, with the population of Russian-America reaching just 700 at its peak – it was able to hold on to control of trade in the region.

In 1867, for fear of the region getting into British hands and because of financial troubles in their homeland, Russia agreed to sell Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million.  Originally the purchase was considered to be a frivolous waste of money – referred to as “Seward’s Folly”, after Secretary of State, William Seward, who had instigated the transaction –  but the discovery of natural resources that followed proved it to be a fantastic acquisition.   Gold was found in the Yukon Territory of Canada in 1896, which helped the Alaskan economy as it provided the easiest transportation route to and from there; and the precious metal was also unearthed in Nome three years later.  The gold rush in Alaska resulted in the establishment of more towns, including Fairbanks, and in 1903, construction began on a railroad in the district, to aid transportation of goods.

The Territory of Alaska was organised by Congress in 1912 and at the time there was very little interest in them becoming a state, even from those who lived there.  During the Second World War, the Japanese launched an attack on Dutch Harbor, on Unalaksa Island, in 1942 and, although this failed, they captured two of the Aleutian Islands – Kiska and Attu – in the subsequent days.  Both were regained by the US the following year and, in order to provide more protection to Alaska, military bases were constructed in the territory, which also had the effect of increasing the population.  In order to make it easier to send supplies from the United States during the war to their allies the Soviet Union, the Alaska-Canada Military Highway was constructed in 1942, which was the first overland connection between itself and the mainland.

On January 3rd, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state of the Union.  It is the biggest in area and, with just over 700,000 residents – the fourth fewest – it is the least densely populated in the United States, with just 1.26 citizens per square mile.  Oil has been a major driving force in Alaska’s economy, with various discoveries of the fuel there in the last century, but that has not been without its drawbacks.  In 1989, the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sea, affecting more than 1,000 miles of coastline and decimating the local wildlife.  The energy sector – which includes natural gas as well as oil – accounts for four-fifths of the state’s economy, with the remainder primarily consisting of shipping; exporting seafood, particularly salmon, cod and crab; and tourism.  There are (unsurprisingly) no “Big Four” franchises in the state, whose official state sport is dog mushing.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 3

2008 Result: McCain 59.8% Obama 38.0%

Latest Poll: No recent poll data

Alaska has voted for a Democrat in a Presidential election just once since it became a state – giving its 3 Electoral College Votes to Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 – with the GOP winning all of the other 12 contests, including in 2008, when Sen. John McCain’s running mate was the previously little known Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.  The Republican’s winning streak is not going to end this time around as polling is not even being done in a state which is sure to be won by Governor Romney.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is no Senate election in Alaska this year and the state has just one Representative in the House, with the incumbent, Rep. Don Young, seeking a twenty-first term in office, having first been elected in 1973.  The Democratic candidate is Sharon Cissna, but polls favour Young remaining in Congress for at least another two years.

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